'People v. O.J. Simpson's' David Schwimmer: Robert Kardashian "Never Recovered" After the Trial

"It changed him profoundly," the actor reveals about his crisis of faith pertaining to Simpson's innocence.
 Courtesy of FX

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for episode eight of The People v. O.J. Simpson, "A Jury in Jail."]

As The People v. O.J. Simpson has pointed out time and time again, it wasn’t until a lawyer named Robert Kardashian — one of O.J. Simpson’s most loyal friends — joined the accused killer's legal team that the name Kardashian started to become a household name.

As one of the few innocent bystanders in the whole process, Robert’s faith in his friend and in the system never wavered, until the evidence started pouring in and the DNA testimony began to change everything he believed in. During Tuesday's episode, viewers began to really see that crisis of faith as Robert (David Schwimmer) started questioning O.J. (Cuba Gooding Jr.), and eventually confided in ex-wife Kris Jenner (Selma Blair) that after the trial, O.J. needed to be out of their lives for good.

THR caught up with Schwimmer to get his take on those pivotal scenes, find out what he gained from his own interview with the real Kris Jenner, and what he found shocking about this whole trial as he learned some of the new details decades later.

What did you originally get out of your conversation with Kris Jenner while researching the role?

We only had one conversation but she was generous with her time, it was about a two-hour conversation. At the time I had a few pages of questions, but the most illuminating thing that came out of it was her description of who he was as a family man and his personality traits. How attentive and loving, compassionate, generous and loyal he was. Family was very important to him; he loved big family meals and gatherings and worshiped his parents. The second thing that was helpful to learn was how religious he was. He had his own bible with him all the time. He prayed before meals and business meetings and he had a very personal relationship to his faith.

Did you get any insight from her in regards to the big moment between Robert and Kris in this episode? Did he really tell her he was done with O.J.?

We didn’t discuss that at all and I don’t know if that happened, I think that’s really speculative on the writers’ part. What we do know from the aftermath of the trial are a few things: He had doubts, he had trouble with the blood evidence and the DNA and the overwhelming evidence of blood in the Bronco and the sock and on and on. That was troubling for him; he was never able to wrap his head around the explanations that the defense team were giving. So he had doubts of O.J.’s innocence during the trial and certainly afterward. Their friendship pretty much ended. When the trial was over, the friendship was over. By all accounts they had very little if any contact afterward. My deduction is that Robert chose to end the friendship in part because of the doubt that he began to have. Episodes seven, eight and nine, you really begin to see Robert’s crisis of faith. His faith in O.J., his faith in his innocence and actually his faith in his own God.

What was playing that crisis of faith like and do you think it changed the real Rob’s faith in people at all?

I think it changed him profoundly in probably every way. This is just my guess, but he never really recovered after that trial. His health deteriorated, it ruined the new romantic relationship he was in. It affected him profoundly. We’ll never really know, but I certainly made the choice as an actor and with the writers that the trial had a devastating effect on Robert and he’s actually kind of a tragic figure. He’s someone who was dealt a really bad blow by the entire ordeal and then not too much longer afterwards we lost him.

Have you heard any reactions from anyone in the Kardashian family after this was released?

I have not. I hope they feel that I played him with respect, that I tried to convey a real person with real strong beliefs and convictions. 

Is there an irony to the fact that Robert was a private guy, but now the Kardashian name is one of the most famous around?

It’s ironic given how seemingly private Robert was. It is ironic that his offspring became internationally famous. It’s also interesting that his celebrity was totally accidental and unintentional. It was inadvertently thrust into every household in America and it’s not something he pursued or even enjoyed. But who really knows? I don’t.  

Can you break down playing the poker scenes with Cuba, either what kind of direction you guys were given or how you wanted that to play out?

The purpose of those two scenes were to really dramatize the fact that O.J.’s friends bailed on him. All his other friends, especially his white friends, just disappeared. It was also showing the difference before the DNA evidence was admitted and heard in court. We take DNA for granted so much now because of CSI and all these other shows, but at that time it just was new science. It was not really public knowledge how strong DNA testing and evidence scientifically was. This was one of the first trials that really highlighted it and it was one of the things that really devastated Robert, hearing that evidence. That was the major difference in those two poker scenes — one before Robert and the other white friends heard it, and the second when Robert came alone and the other guys bailed.

Robert, in that scene, is really trying to ask O.J. in so many words, “Look, I’m your closest and longest ally. If you can’t tell me the truth right now in this moment, then who are we? Who am I to you?” He’s really hoping that he’ll have a confession from O.J. in that moment.

There have been a lot of reveals about the trial through this series that weren’t really in the public eye before. Was there anything you learned in particular that was shocking to you?

So many things have surprised me and educated me. In particular the domestic violence and how it was seen by the public and how it was portrayed in court. Just the fact that Nicole [Brown Simpson] had many reports to the police about domestic abuse and violence that went unanswered. Following the trial, I don’t remember it having as much impact as it did when I was doing the research this time around and reading the scripts.

Also, just what Marcia Clark went through with the media. How the press really was partially responsible for how she was vilified. I remember at the time having negative feelings about Marcia — and my mom was a strong, top lawyer in California at the time. And still, I was duped by the media’s portrayal of her and had to catch myself from falling into the trap of having negative feelings about her and paying attention to things like her hair. No other lawyer had the scrutiny on appearance and her personal life that Marcia had to endure. It’s really telling of the time and the media’s part in it.

After doing so much directing, what has it been like to come back to television?

It’s fun. When Friends ended, I was focused more on films and did a lot more theater. And then I got married and had a daughter who’s almost 5 now. I guess I was enjoying being a dad for the first time, and being a husband. I just didn’t want to work so hard! To be honest, I just wanted to enjoy that chapter of my life. But now my daughter is in school and my wife’s career is taking off as an artist so I just feel like now I can do a little more work.

What was it about your new AMC drama, Feed the Beast, in particular that made you choose that role as a follow-up to O.J.?

I love that it shoots here at home in New York. Clyde Phillips is such a talented showrunner from Dexter and Nurse Jackie. And this character is just a great, great character. He’s an alcoholic sommelier. It’s a dark, gritty show kind of like the movie Big Night. It’s kind of a combination of Big Night and The Sopranos; cooking and crime and great drama and humor and really character driven stuff. It’s a great ensemble.

The People v. O.J. Simpsons airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX. What did you think of the Robert and O.J. scenes? Sound off in the comments below.

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